in 2006, Shine a Light helped a group of teenage musicians from the favelas of Recife to make a rap album condemning the police and gang violence around them. Five years later, with that violence dramatically reduced, we returned to the city to find out what had changed... and why.
For the last six months, Shine a Light has been working with the Morro do Fortunato quilombo (runaway slave colony) to get land rights for the community. This excellent article in the Huffington Post gives background and context for the struggle for land in Brazil.
In 2005, Shine a Light worked with a group of young conflict mediators in the shantytown of Moravia, Medellín. Over a decade, the group had brought peace to one of the most violent communities in the world, largely just by helping neighbors talk with each other.
In 2006, when we first began our work with CineFavela in Recife, we made a series of films about different kinds of music in the city. Cila do Coco, a famous singer, was kind enough to give a great interview, which has turned into one of our most popular videos on YouTube.
In 2011, we worked with leaders of the Kuna indians in Panamá -- both in Panama City and on the islands of Kuna Yala -- to create a dialogue between urban and island indian youth. On the island of Ailigandi, the kids wanted to interpret the myth of the heron. It's a fabulous story about mimetic desire and jealousy, and the kids did a great job of telling the story. And the wedding scene follows exactly in the way that Kuna weddings happen, including the ritual water fight afterward!
This weekend, the Quilombos do Sul project turned its attention to what the community has been like for women and girls over the last decade. Vitor Cardoso, our staff historian, interviewed Dona Chica, who has seen a lot in her almost 90 years in the Morro do Fortunato Quilombo.
We don't want to spoil the movie and comic book that will eventually emerge from this project for you, so we won't tell to many details of the interview, but I did want to include one thing: It's relatively common in Brazil for men to compete in poetry contests. About 70 years ago, it appears that the girls and young women in the quilombo did the same thing: and young men (prospective boyfriends!) were the prize.
I always loved the Robin Hood story when I was a little kid. The little guy struggling against injustice whatever the cost, the transgression of the formal law in service of a greater good, the critique of inequality and royal power. I don't particularly remember when or where I saw the Disney version of Robin Hood, but the foxes and the archery contest are clear in my head, so my guess is that the movie was the start of a long passion for the story, one that would end even in the publication of a book on social change philanthropy, Robin Hood was Right.
Given this history, I certainly wasn't expecting the movie that Helena has been watching over the last couple of weeks. Yes, it's the same movie it always was. It's just that in the current political context, it seems to mean something very different than I ever took it to mean.
The movie, I saw only now, transforms the story into one only about taxes. Injustice is not exploitation, repression, or the exclusion of the saxons by the normans. Though Prince John, Hiss, and the Sheriff of Nottingham are clearly bad guys, the only way they express this evil is by charging high taxes. The voiceover that tells and retells this story is a supposed "folk-singer" who "tells it like it is."
Though I was offended by the interpretation of the movie, it goes a long way to understanding the political confusion in the United States, where working class populism almost always ends up supporting exactly the people who want to screw the working class. The Tea Party is the perfect contemporary manifestation of this problem, where (legitimate) anger at the way that the rich and businesses control the US government becomes a way for the rich and corporation to cement their control over government. The supposed injustice of taxes (really lower in the US than in any other industrialized country) is the tool that the unscrupulous right way uses to engage in this political judo.
The movie first came out in 1973, a time when an honest movie about a social bandit (Eric Hobswawm's term for criminals who gain social legitimacy from their moral and financial support of oppressed or marginalized groups) would have been interpreted as support for communism. Nixon was president (soon to be expelled). But the film might also have worked in the 1950s or in the 1920s. America has to re-interpret popular struggle as against taxes, and not against an unjust economic system.
Here, however, is the irony. I don't remember the movie this way. Helena doesn't seem to care in the least for the story line about taxes. Kids, after all, don't pay taxes: that part of the story doesn't touch them. What they like is the idea of cute animals and little kids standing up against oppression: not understood as the Tea Party or the John Birch society (mis)understands oppression, but as little kids experience it. Helena likes the movie, and I hope that will be one little step on her way to care about making a world that is a little less unjust. Just like it did for me.
More comments on kids films in the Children's Media Critic.
After two weeks working with the FavelaNews team in Recife, it makes sense that one of their stories should be on the list of our top 25. This story asks the basic question, "What is a favela" and gets some rather unexpected answers from people who live in these marginalized communities.
In the Baniwa Indian community of Itacoatiara-Mirim, in the upper Rio Negro of the Amazon, we did a series of films with small children, documenting their history, myths, and creativity. One of the most interesting films, however, was an unexpected interview with the local shaman, Seu Mário. He explained the philosophy of memory among the Baniwa, which is very different from what we think about memory in the European tradition. Here, it isn't mostly about ideas kept in the mind, but the repetition of actions by a body or a community.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
Entrevista with Mário Joaquim, Baniwa Shaman and Marta da Silva, musician and dancer.
[As children dance in the background.} Tell us what it means for children to be learning Baniwa dance and music.
Mário: It is wonderful to see them present our culture. They show their knowledge and learn culture, just like I learned many years ago from my father. I was 12 when I learned the long japurutu pipe, the cariçu flute. Even when we left the headwaters of the Aiari River and came here, he kept playing. He even played in Manaus, and in Paris, you know?
Marta. We did it when we were a kid, and dancing is the way to learn and never forget. That's why the traditional can't die. We like it you come from outside to join us in the greathouse, because it says the tradition is important, and we keep doing it.
What was it like to learn the dabucuri?
I learned so much as a boy. Back then it was buried music -- I think you call it sacred? Women and girls couldn't see the instruments, nor could a boy without the right blessings. Do the rite, and you could participate. That's what we call culture. What we call education. It's the way to teach not to steal, not to kill. But you, even with this camera, you'll forget what I say, because you don't dance, don't inscribe it in your hearts.
What do you remember of your father's lessons?
Your memory is in your body, not your head. He taught me to wake early to work, and I still wake before the sun. You sleep to much, you forget. You don't go into the field, don't have time to bless. And when I wake early, I remember, and don't lose my thoughts in dreams.
My father taught me to bless. I inscribed it in my heart by doing it, not by repeating the words. If you know how to use it, to do it, you learn. Inscribed on your heart isn't like being written on paper. You learn it and it is always with you. Culture, music, blessings, you remember when your body does it. Remembering is doing the motion again and again, saying the words again and again. But sleep too much and you lose it.
So you remember in your body? Not in your mind?
It's not like you. You inscribe your memory in that camera, you record it. Or on paper. We inscribe on our hearts. People inscribe in their hearts. That's all there is.
Let it Go, Let it Grow. The best children's movie of 2013 (Frozen) and the best of 2012 (The Lorax) have very similar lyrics to their anthems. Even the melodies have something similar to them. I don't think plagiarism has anything to do with the similarity, but that both movies are tapping into something very interesting about the zeitgeist.
Helena Iara also uses the same "Let..." construction, and quite often. I notice it, because (informed by Portuguese grammar, which makes more sense to her) she will always say, "Daddy, let I climb on this chair..." or any other number of things she thinks I may or may not allow her to do. This little gramattical error, however, points to the most interesting thing about Let it Go, Let it Grow, which is to say, who is the agent of the action? When one says "Daddy, let me do x," who is the actor and who is acted upon?
Continue reading in Shine a Light's Children's Media Critic.